*Please note: This is Part Two of a two part series. Part One can be found here.*
Since the beginning of Adopt-A-Family the McKnights and the Vires families have been influential for a host of players.
The McKnight family will typically adopt the students who come from as far away as Canada or California.
Rosemary and Gary McKnight adopted Darcy Moore from Canada for all four years that he attended Freed-Hardeman University. Since Darcy was from Canada, his family rarely got to see him play, so Gary and Rosemary McKnight enjoyed going to the games and rooting for him in place of his family.
"When we first got to know Darcy, we found out that he loved peanut butter, so we were always looking for recipes that had peanut butter in them to make him special treats or desserts when he came over," Rosemary said. "I found a recipe for a 'Chocolate Peanut Butter Poke Cake' and decided to try it out. We took some to Darcy, and the following game he hit a home run. He told us he thought it was the cake. So, we made another peanut butter poke cake and took him the whole cake. The next outing, he hit five home runs in a double header!"
Coach Estes' wife, Ashley, called Rosemary to ask for the recipe. She gave it the nickname "Home Run Cake" and would make it and take it to the fieldhouse for the players.
"Whatever it takes!" Ashley Estes commented.
"My wife said, 'We have to feed him this cake before every game,'" Coach Estes chuckled. "But I told her we don't need to be feeding them so much junk food right before all of our games."
Gary and Rosemary McKnight have continued to stay in touch with Darcy and his family long after he graduated from FHU in May of 2018.
Dr. Vires got involved with the program one Sunday morning after Bible Class when Coach Estes asked various families to adopt baseball players. "I noticed he skipped over me, so I went to Coach Estes and said, 'I don't know much about baseball, but my wife is a very good cook and we'd like to participate,'" Dr. Vires recalled. "The Office of Academics can be a pretty isolated place where interactions with students are very limited."
In spite of this, the program has had a very positive influence on Dr. Vires, his family, and the players who come through his home. Dr. Vires considers it a ministry to help these young men build and grow relationships with Christ and His church.
While there are many great aspects of the Adopt-A-Family program, Vires explains the part he has found most fulfilling and impactful is helping young men grow in their love for Christ and in some cases become Christians. "When I lived in Oklahoma, I served as the deacon working with the college university group. We had a young man on the basketball team who started coming to the Thursday night devotionals. I started to get to know him and had lunch with him a couple of times. I kept telling myself, 'You need to talk to him about where he is spiritually.' He passed away in his sleep. He had a heart condition that was unknown. After that, I told myself I will never wait to talk to someone again. The basis of telling someone 'I love you' makes me feel compelled to talk to them."
When the Vires family adopts players, they take time to get to know them often inviting them into their home for Sunday lunch or dinner during the week. Dr. Vires will often invite adopted players to lunch, and inevitably conversations over lunch take on a spiritual focus. Dr. Vires noted that he's learned a lot by asking two questions, 'How are you doing spiritually?' and 'What do you need me to pray for for you?' For those who aren't Christians, Vires notes that those conversations 'take on an eternal focus and are much more serious, and sometimes are challenging and require courage.'
"My love for them dictates that I have to have that conversation, and if I don't, I don't really love them," Dr. Vires explained.
When the players answer the call to be baptized, it is always a tearful, joyous occasion. Dr. Vires, Coach Estes, and everyone else involved will continue to have weekly Bible studies with these young men to help them grow and to learn. When these young men answer the call and say they are ready, it is a two-fold mission coming to completion. It is missional in terms of fulfilling the great commission and in terms of fulfilling FHU's mission.
One player, Beau Caviness, answered the call during his sophomore year. He had been one of the Vires' adopted-players his freshman year and reached out to Dr. Vires through text, telling him that he decided to be baptized at Estes. Dr. Vires assumed that all of his friends and team members would be there, but when he reached the building it was Coach Estes, Beau, a handful of students, and the Vires family.
"In this life, we don't always know the impact we are having," Dr. Vires said.
After the baptism, the group gathered together to pray. As Beau and Dr. Vires hugged, Beau affirmed the impact of the Vires family on his life and how much he loved them. Vires recounts there were lots of tears, and, "It was one of those moments when I knew the impact of what we were doing and the type of soil that God had been cultivating."
"That's so different from the public university background I had before FHU," Dr. Vires began. "There is little opportunity for your faith and work to overlap. Here at FHU, they are expected to overlap. This overlap, this practice of vocation, is a critical piece that is at the heart of the University's mission and ethos."
Just like the McKnight's with their adopted players, the relationship that the Vires family has built with these young men does not cease after graduation. Dr. Vires continues to keep track of them afterward. Some he texts or emails two or three times throughout the year just to see how they are doing. There are some who keep in touch more frequently.
"There is one that I basically call an adopted son. We talk or text weekly. When he has big life decisions to make, he'll contact me for advice. Our conversations always make me smile because I see God continuing to mold him into the likeness of Christ," Dr. Vires stated.
The Adopt-A-Family program is just one of many examples of how Freed-Hardeman University is focused on Christian values and building relationships that can last for eternity while encouraging students to use their God-given talents to spread their light into the world.
A special thanks is extended to the Coach Estes and his family, the McKnight family, and the Vires family for their help on this blog series. As well as a thank you to all the families who participate in the Adopt-A-Family program.
Pictures provided by Dr. C.J. Vires
Words by A. Hancock, Community Engagement Coordinator